LENA MITCHELL: Learning clear thinking strategies may help recovery from election

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

Growing up in a household with parents whose political allegiances were on opposite sides of the aisle, I’m accustomed to hearing both sides of political discussions argued passionately.
I opened my Facebook page the day after national elections to find that many of my family, friends and associates had been thrown into a tailspin by comments made about the re-elected president.
These family members and friends said they felt blindsided by the number of their associates whom they thought were true friends who had made deeply racist and threatening comments about the president in the wake of the election outcome.
Some observers say the reason for such harsh and violent reaction from people on the political right is the deep shock they continue to experience because they never believed the election’s outcome could be anything but success for the Republican candidates.
After all, Republican success in winning so many state governor and legislative elections, as well as the amount of money available to spread their candidate’s message should have guaranteed victory, right?
The problem, however, is that when you look at only one aspect of an issue you usually end up with a skewed perception of reality.
Many years ago I read an article in Parade magazine by Dr. Earl Ubell, “How to Think Clearer.” It has served me well in helping me understand my own biases and how to take those into consideration as I try to arrive at a more objective way of thinking about a subject.
People who have had difficulty accepting the reality of the election’s outcome would do well to employ some of those critical thinking principles. Though I couldn’t find a copy of Ubell’s article online, I did find a Christian website, graciescafe.org, which incorporates some of his ideas.
Presenting some of these critical thinking ideas from a Christian perspective is particularly relevant here, because many of the most hate-filled comments have come from people who boldly call themselves Christians. Wouldn’t real Christians be more inclined to pray that the president be awakened to what they feel is a more constructive way of thinking? If the president were not Christian, as some continue to believe, wouldn’t real Christians pray for his conversion?
For those who need to find a new way of evaluating events of the 2012 presidential election, and hopefully a way to examine reality going forward, some suggestions from Gracie’s Café Mental Health Team on “How to Think More Clearly” by eliminating the following cognitive distortions.
• All-or-Nothing Thinking – You tend to see things in black and white, right or wrong, good or bad with no “shades of gray.” You either love or hate something and see everything in terms of one extreme or the other; there is no in-between. (President Obama might not have done everything right, but he did some things right. After all, Osama bin Laden has been eliminated as a threat to the United States.)
• Catastrophizing – An irrational thought in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. It can take two forms: Making a catastrophe out of a situation that may only be temporary or taking a current situation and giving it a truly negative “spin.”
• Minimizing – This distortion is almost the reverse of catastrophizing. You shrink things until they are way out-of-whack with reality. You downplay a situation, depending on your needs rather than the reality, like insulting someone and trying to minimize the effect by saying “I was only kidding.”
• Overgeneralization – After only one or two instances of an event, you leap to the conclusion that it happens every time or to everybody or everywhere. This is the “always” distortion.
• Mental Filter – You pick out one negative thing and dwell on it so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like a drop of ink that turns the entire beaker of water black.
• Emotional Reasoning – You think, “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” (Like Dick Morris’ “feeling” that Mitt Romney would win the presidency by a landslide.)
• Discounting the Positive – You find reasons to distrust and dismiss favorable outcomes.
Whether or not someone who labors under distorted thinking chooses to try to rectify their condition or not, the world’s realities are not going away.
Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.